Unearthing Employment Brand

Until recently I was not a huge believer in putting a lot of effort, money, or time into driving company employment branding initiatives. It felt a little fluffy to me, and, honestly, I thought recruiting was a hands-on discipline (cold calling, relationship building, networking, etc.) measured in end results like time to fill, cost per hire, time to source, etc. I didn’t understand the place employer branding held in an overall corporate recruiting strategy. Frankly I was not that engaged in the branding efforts either. My gut tells me there are a lot of recruiters out there that feel the same way.

I would also add that employment advertising started to all sound and look the same. I think “employer of choice” or “competitive salary and benefits” are phrases that have lost any real meaning. And in healthcare (my background), all ads seemed to look the same — smiling multi-cultural clinicians in scrub standing in front of a nurse’s station (if you haven’t noticed … it’s true — check it out).

Recently this perspective changed for me. I’ve taken a talent leadership role with an advertising agency (full disclosure: my company does not handle employment advertising) and I would say that I now “get it” …  at least way more than I ever did before. To this point, my exposure to employment branding has concentrated on coming up with clever job postings that sounded cool or trying to figure out the best place to post a position. That’s why employment branding didn’t connect to me.

Let’s talk about what employment branding is and is not:

  • Employment messaging has to be based in real experiences. How does a target recruit experience your company? It has to be authentic. If the employment brand sells one thing and the recruit experiences something totally different, then organizational credibility is shot. Branding does not happen in a void separate from operational reality. Be prepared: tough conversations with operational teams may result!
  • Do you have a story to tell? As a corporate recruiter, especially, you tend to get overly focused on your own world. Take a moment and survey the field. Go look at job boards and career pages at a variety of competitors. What stands out? Do they look and feel a lot the same? Does the story sound a lot the same across organizations? Does your company stand out in the field in any real way?
  • Don’t say “Competitive compensation and benefits.” Two reasons: most people read this and hear that that your company pays the same as everyone else … not compelling. Second, it should not be a driver of your message.
  • You need a strategic platform that drives creative and messaging. I think too many recruiters are more concerned about “where” to place their advertising than whether the message is compelling, interesting, effective, or honest. Messaging should be the result of thoughtful research and strategy. The placement of advertising is the result of research and insight into your target recruit.

Below is a suggested branding path that should lead to a more effective employment branding and better success. This process isn’t earth shattering — just a fundamental path leading to meaningful execution.

  1. Research. What do you know about your target or ideal candidate? What can you dig up regarding your competitors? Are there any industry trends affecting applicant flow? Is there anything going on with competitors that might cause their employees to be open to pursuing other opportunities? In short, knowledge is power.
  2. Strategy. Based on learning, what do you know about your target recruit? When do they typically make career moves? What does your target audience consider when making a move? Additionally, are your recruiters trained to sell to individual and group preferences when positioning your company’s opportunity?
  3. Creative. Unfortunately this stage is where most employment advertising campaigns start. Employers think they simply need interesting, creative, snappy advertising to get more quality applicants to roll in the door. Unfortunately if that creative is not firmly based in a strategy, success is predicated on luck. Don’t read this to say creative is not important. It is. Good creative and thoughtful messaging can really peak interest in an organization. Making that creative tie to a meaningful strategy is candidate gold!
  4. Placement. Where is your target recruit looking for a job? What messaging really connects with them and compels them to look further into your company (resulting in application)? What message works in what advertising channel? The same message might not work on a job posting as it does on a fan page or YouTube Channel. What’s the best value for impression available?
  5. Measurement. The last step in any effective and cost conscious recruiting campaign is measuring the impact. The goals of a campaign are completely situational. In some cases, low-volume, high-quality applicants are the goal. In other instances, a company may want high volume with heavy front end, automated screening. Whatever the goal, make sure it is clearly defined. With numbers in hand, it’s much simpler to tweak campaigns (messaging, location, timeliness, etc.) or prove to organizational leadership that employment branding initiatives are leading to intended outcomes.